Sheldon Bateau travelled from Trinidad & Tobago to Belgium, only to play football. He hopes to build a future here.
21 years old and leaving everything behind in Trinidad and Tobago to achieve your goal, becoming a successful professional football player. That is what Sheldon Bateau, defender of YR KV Mechelen, did. ‘Choosing for KV Mechelen was destiny’, says the youngster.
Ever since he was a young boy, Bateau dreamt of being a professional football player. In the summer of 2012 he enjoyed far-reaching interest of the Dutch high-flying teams Ajax Amsterdam, Vitesse, Roda JC and FC Twente. Bateau decided to sign a contract with the mid-table tradition football club YR KV Mechelen because he wanted to play instead of aborting on the bench. With many defenders in the injury basket, coach Harm Van Veldhoven and his club decided to give central defender Bateau a chance with a one-year contract. So far the young lad appeared in no less than twelve games. ‘I am very happy with the playing opportunities I get’, states Bateau. ‘When you are a young player, you usually sit on the bench. With the injuries we encountered, I have kept on training so the coach had no choice but to put me on the game sheet.’
To come to Europe was not self-evident. ‘I had nothing’, says Bateau. ‘My Dutch agent brought me to Europe and I had no club. I worked at my own at a small park and I conserved my fitness level at a local amateur club in Holland.’
Coming to Belgium, and especially playing at Malinwa, was no coincidence, according to Bateau. ‘It was destiny. When I was a child, I trialed at Aston Villa (Premier League football club, red.) and Pachuca (Mexican football club, red.). But because of many changes I ended up here. I also have the same number on my jersey as my brother and my good friend, the number six. To come here and get the number six is a blessing for me.’
Not much of a blessing nowadays, is how the national Football Association of Trinidad and Tobago treats him. ‘I grew up playing for the national team. I was called up for the U17 World Cup in South Korea, the U20 World Cup in Egypt and the Olympics. After the Olympics, I have not been given the chance anymore to play with the first team of my country. When I arrived at KV Mechelen, the Football Association called but when I’m there they put me in the stadium instead of playing on the pitch itself. So I decided to set KV Mechelen as my main priority.’
Bateau also has other ambitions and priorities. ‘I want to be someone who people can remember. For the club but also for my country. So far, I have been the captain of every team I played for. My number one goal is to be an example for young footballers. Most of the kids in my country don’t take football seriously. Football is all they have. They prefer to party and buy Jordans (basketball shoes of Nike, red.). I try to show them football can take you somewhere.’
‘A lot of kids look up to me because we have the same background. I wasn’t poor, but rich neither. Football is all I knew and it was my dream. I even had a scholarship to study in the United States, but then I would lose four years. Many people told me I’m crazy. I wondered why I can’t be as successful as Dwight Yorke (player at English club Manchester United between 1998 and 2002, red.). I want to be the next Dwight Yorke. This dream never left my head.’
‘It was not easy to choose between school and football. In school, my mother said that football is not a job. I really think football is one of the best jobs in the world but she didn’t understand how football works. Now, she supports me and she is very happy. When I signed the contract she called everybody.
‘My father was very hard for me. In the past, he was the coach of the national team so he was always there. Not once he said he was proud of me. Until I signed the contract. He made it public he was proud of his son. Everything I achieved in the past was nothing for him because he knew I could achieve more. It made him admit, for once. It brought tears to my eyes and it was nice to hear him being soft.’
Football to survive
‘The government has confused themselves.’ Bateau didn’t have the best life at his home country Trinidad & Tobago, mainly because of the political situation. ‘Lots of drugs and guns pass our country trough Venezuela. Moreover, education is nearly priceless. It costs 2,500 dollars and that is a lot of money for a kid studying. It is easier to pick up a gun and rob someone’, explains Bateau his reason why he believes in the power of football. ‘I try to proof my home country football can mean something. I can be one of the players who can change the way they see football.’
Besides athletics Trinitad & Tobago is also known for cricket. Football is not the number one sport. ‘During the last Olympics, Keshorn Walcott won gold in the javelin throw. His face was put on a place, they gave him a house with land, one million euro’s… A few years ago we were the first team ever who qualified for the U17 World Cup and we did not get anything. Many young players from South-African countries receive houses and cars for qualifying for the World Cups. It shows the irrelevance of football in my country’, says Bateau.
‘Sometimes I cried, because the money I was making was not enough’, tells Bateau candidly. ‘I wanted to help my brother who played in America, but I couldn’t. Since I have came to Belgium everything is better. Recently my brother needed money for a ticket to Vietnam. I am glad I can help my family now.’
‘Some of my cousins suddenly need things now they know I earn money’, laughs Bateau. ‘They think I earn so much money I can just give it away. But I know I have to save my money. One day I can get injured so I have to be smart. They don’t understand.’
Violence is everywhere
At the beginning of December, Dutch referee Richard Nieuwenhuizen died three hours after a vigorous attack by a group of U17 players. ‘Even in my country I saw one ref had to go to the hospital because fans did not agree with some decisions he made. It is always sad news when this happens, referees are innocent to me. Fans need to understand referees deserve respect and they are humans who can make mistakes. Without the ref, games can not be played. Fans take advantage to him because they know the ref can not do anything.’
No woman no cry
Before a game, he likes to listen to Jamaican music. ‘It gets your mind ready’, explains Bateau. Bob Marley sang it, Bateau means it. ‘I have been single for more than a year. I broke up with my girlfriend to achieve my goal. She is Canadian and studied in my home country. I knew my dream and I did not want anything made me lose focus. It is important to me to be happy before the start of a game and I don’t want to argue or get angry at my girlfriend just before a game. When you do good things, good things will come to you.’